These 5 award-winning women are using their childhood traumas to help others heal through their true-life play

The women who make up Intsusa. Photo: Supplied by Intsusa
The women who make up Intsusa. Photo: Supplied by Intsusa

From a young woman whose father was arrested when she was in matric to another who tried to take her own life, the five ladies from Intsusa represent so many people in South Africa who are dealing with trauma.

Three of the five women – Ntumekelelo Siyepu, Thuto Gaasenwe and Sokuphila Mkosana – walk into the Media24 studios to meet with us soon after country-wide protests against the victimisation of women. They too are playing their part in helping women and men heal from their traumas.

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Just a few months ago the group of young performers were invited to the United Kingdom on a tour where they performed their first ever theatre production: A Place of Knowing. And to make the trip even more special, Intsusa won the best international act award at the International Youth Arts Festival in Kingston, UK.

Just before jetting off to the UK, Intsusa won two awards at the Standard Bank Ovation Awards at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda. A Place of Knowing, their collaborative piece with the Theatreduo, walked away with an ensemble award and a bronze award.

In the production, each of them tells their story in a beautifully put together piece – and with every performance they leave the entire audience in tears. Partly because the audience see themselves in every story, and partly because they can’t believe how brave these young ladies are to just bare their hearts and souls in front of strangers. All this despite vulnerability possibly being one of the most difficult emotions to deal with because of the fear of the unknown.

“When we first got together, we weren’t friends, we were just classmates who respected each other’s work ethic. Then when we formed the group we didn’t really have a concept, but we knew we wanted to tell our stories and that our stories matter. But never in a million years did I ever imagine I’d get to a point where I share the things I went through as a child with strangers. Because we act cool and like we’re okay, sometimes we even think we are – until you have to sit down with yourself and be okay with the fact that you’re not okay, and that’s okay,” Ntumekelelo says.

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“I feel the same,” soft-spoken Sokuphila says. “On campus I’m a very bubbly, outspoken person. So, when people at school saw the play for the first time, they didn’t believe that at some point in my childhood I’d go hungry. Thank God we don’t look like what we’ve been through,” Sokuphila jokes.

Sokuphila is a very bubbly person who jokes a lot and admits that she sometimes hides her pain behind the jokes. “It’s a coping mechanism, really,” she continues.

Thuto also has a similar personality. “I’m not a very open person but when we were preparing A Place of Knowing, we all had to face our demons. It’s true when they say being an artist means being honest. You can’t get on that stage and think you’re going to lie your way through or share only part of yourself. It’s really all or nothing. And after a couple of performances, some people think it gets easier, but it doesn’t. That’s where you learn to be disciplined in your healing,” Thuto tells us.

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“Thuto’s right,” Ntumekelelo agrees. “With some performances it was very hard for me, to the point where I didn’t even feel like getting up from the floor. And with others I felt nothing until I actually got on that stage. I think what motivates all of us is our slogan. ‘Your stories are valid’. Just to know that our stories touch so many people in such a deep way is enough for us.”

Sibulele Sabisa, who is chatting to us over the phone along with Anathi Conjwa, can’t help but agree with Ntumekelelo.

“I think the proudest moment with the girls for me was after the first two performances of the play. We had rehearsed for two months before then, and we didn’t think that much rehearsal time was necessary, but after seeing the reactions from our friends and families after the first two runs, it just made so much sense. It’s worth it. That’s why we do it,” she says.

Anathi, who initially approached all the ladies and put the group together, cannot stress enough how grateful she is that their paths crossed.

“Getting work in this industry is very difficult, so in my first year already I was thinking of ways to start our thing and tell our stories before even thinking about auditions after completing our degrees. So, I identified these four ladies that I had always seen in class. I respected their work so much, and just how they delivered every single time they were given a chance to. They all agreed to be part of this because we all have the same vision for our future," Anathi says.

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“We didn’t have a name when we first started, so we started with the question, ‘What do we want to say’. And after throwing a bunch of names on the table, we decided to go with ‘Intsusa’ – the reason, the root. I’m so grateful to have met these amazing ladies, and even more grateful that we’ve become such close friends. We literally do everything together,” she laughs.

All five ladies sing the praises of their two directors, Mahlatsi Mokgonyana and Billy Langa, who have been pillars in helping them tell their stories in the most honest way and stuck by them when they were trying to raise funds to travel to the UK.

The young women are now showing their short films (the exam procedures at film school AFDA) and are ready for the next chapter of their lives after completing their undergraduate degrees. 

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